A Warning to Parents About Virtual Reality Headsets

A Warning to Parents About Virtual Reality Headsets
Technology & Health

Parents, if you have a child who’s begging you for a virtual reality (VR) headset, there are a few things you should know. Doctors are concerned that the latest tech fad might have a significant and lasting impact on young, developing brains if it is used for too long, or if it is used by children younger than the recommended age. [1]

The Concern

VR headsets immerse users in a virtual 3-D world. I’ve tried it, and I was a little startled by how I actually felt like I was in a movie theater, inside a news report (with people close enough and realistic enough to touch), and ducking from what looked like real shattered glass flying at me in a video game.

But the same believability that makes virtual reality so cool is also the thing that makes it risky for kids.

What parents might not realize is that there is an age limit on VR, and many of the top selling brands warn against kids using the device. Specifically, the Oculus Rift and Samsung VR Gear is not intended for children under 13. Sony Playstation is for kids 12 and up. The HTC Vive merely states that it is not for young children.

Dr. Joseph Rizzo of Mass Eye and Ear in Massachusetts explains:

“This is a big area of both interest and some concern. There’s a legitimate question about whether that much exposure to artificial visual stimuli will alter the way the brain accepts and processes visual information. It’s an unknown.”

Here’s Where it Gets Tricky

The images you see when you’re using VR is so up close to your face that it actually tricks your brain into seeing depth. That could pose a problem for anyone, but it’s especially worrisome in children, because their brains are still developing. Rizzo says:

“The immediate concerns are with the younger users because they will be prone to use them for much longer periods of time. You need to understand whether the brain is changing in some permanent way.”

There’s also a possible risk of becoming near-sighted.

Pediatrician Cathy Ward of Big Apple Pediatrics in New York says the technology is so new, there isn’t much data to turn to that shows how safe or unsafe it really is. [2]

Another concern, according to Ward, is the effect virtual reality may have on kids’ psychological development. She warns that parents should be very diligent with their kids and VR headsets and realize they’re allowing their child to use technology that has only barely been studied.

Rizzo says:

“Well, there’s a lot of research that needs to be done. And it should be done quickly. The devices are available and there is going to be an explosion in their availability and use in the next years. It’s happening.” [1]

His advice to parents:

“You should encourage judicious use of these devices. Perhaps with time periods limited to 30 minutes or so.”

A report by Common Sense Media in the spring showed that more than half of kids in the U.S. are addicted to technology. Then, a study published in October showed that mobile devices – smartphones, tablets, and laptops – are causing chaos in U.S. families.

One of the things the researchers behind the study stressed is that if parents want their kids to spend a reasonable amount of time using the devices, they need to model appropriate behavior.

Virtual reality is a new, immersive technology that is fascinating to both kids and adults. So if you don’t want your children to be completely sucked in by VR, make sure that you’re not sucked in.


[1] CBS Boston

[2] Fox 5 New York